Eastern Washington coach used Blue Ribbon to help score upset at Indiana

Eastern Washington coach Jim Hayford had a good feeling about the way his team stacked up against Indiana heading into the Eagles’ trip to Assembly Hall on Monday.

Hayford’s instincts proved to be justified. Playing in one of the hallowed venues of the collegiate game, Eastern Washington stunned the Hoosiers, 88-86. The loss snapped Indiana’s 43-game home win streak against non-conference opponents, and by all accounts, it’s the first time a team from the Big Sky Conference has defeated a Big Ten opponent in a true road game.

“Yeah, it’s pretty cool,” Hayford said with a chuckle. “I thought we could score enough points to win. It was just, would we be able to stop them enough?”

One of the Big Sky’s most prolific scoring teams since Hayford arrived three seasons ago, Eastern instead established the pace it preferred.

“Then I think we just weathered a lot of runs, including being down three at the two-minute mark,” Hayford said.

Drew Brandon, who was honored as the Big Sky Player of the Week on Tuesday, came up huge for the Eagles. He scored a career-high 27 points, most of them on drives to the basket. That provided needed scoring as an Eastern team known for shooting 3-pointers—averaging 28.5 attempts per game this season before the Indiana game—was held to 16 shots beyond the arc by the Hoosiers.

Venky Jois, who was chosen to Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook’s all-conference team for the Big Sky, went for an impressive double-double of 20 points and 14 rebounds, also compiling five blocks and two steals. Add in his effort in the previous game against nationally ranked SMU, and Jois averaged 16.5 points, 12.0 boards, 3.0 blocks and 2.5 steals on the two-game road trip.

After logging a signature win for not only the program but the conference, Hayford became pretty popular. When he was finally able to check his phone as the team left Assembly Hall, he found 211 text messages waiting for him.

And yes, Hayford said that Blue Ribbon Basketball Yearbook is part of his regular scouting process. There’s a copy in his office.

“Tomorrow, I’ve got to go read up on Northern Kentucky,” Hayford said late Tuesday night.

And soon. Eastern hosts the Vikings on Wednesday, in what marks his team’s fifth game in a span of 10 days.

Hayford isn’t worried about his players letting the result against Indiana go to their heads.

“I think that, after being off so long, it’s just nice to be playing games. I think that’s how they think,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll avoid the letdown and play well against Northern Kentucky.”